Irish who fought and died at Gallipoli honoured

Mon, Nov 15, 2010, 00:00

THE IRISH at Gallipoli is one of the most marginalised stories of all, those attending an event commemorating the first World War heard in Dublin on Saturday.

Historian and author Philip Orr said that, while the struggle at Gallipoli was part of the narrative of many nations, describing it as a “founding myth” of Australia and New Zealand and an important part of identity in Northern Ireland, it had only come back into the consciousness of the Republic in recent years.

Speaking at the Museum of Decorative Arts History, Collins Barracks, Mr Orr said, “men walked out of this very gateway and perished”. In an address titled Gallipoli – Ireland’s Forgotten Battle?Mr Orr described the battle, in which half a million men were casualties, up to 4,000 of whom were Irish, as a “monumental waste of human life”.

He said with the western front “a quagmire”, Winston Churchill’s logic was to bombard Constantinople, and the 29th Division, including members of the Royal Dublin, Munster and Inniskilling Fusiliers, went ashore in April 1915 at Cape Helles on Gallipoli.

He said it was soon clear that Britain’s perception of Turkey as a “sick man of Europe” to be quickly overcome was wrong, with up to 600 men killed in just 15 minutes.

He added that while in Northern Ireland, honour is given to the solidly unionist 36th Ulster Division, the memory of the sacrifice of the Irish in the nationalist 16th Division and the 10th Division, which included Protestants from the South, “had faded”.

The Turkish ambassador to Ireland Altay Cengizer, who also addressed the event, said the slaughter at Gallipoli, where tens of thousands of Turkish people died, could have been avoided had the British accepted Turkey’s offer to side with them. “The degree of hubris of the British at this time was quite unbelievable.”

In her lecture, “The Poppy and the Harp”, archaeological historian Niamh Keating, said that in an independent Ireland, the place of the 200,000 Irish who fought was “often forgotten or denied”.

She said the war memorial at Islandbridge, though planned for 70 years, was not officially opened until 1988. She said an oratory erected by the townspeople of Dún Laoghaire in 1919 was an exception, but said its location in the grounds of a convent showed the “unfavourable conditions of building more public memorials”.